Before Malcolm Hamilton berated and cursed the police officers and before he threatened to use his influence as a city councilman to seek punishment, video from a police cruiser captured the traffic stop.
The Feb. 1 video shows the District 1 city councilman, who was driving his white Mercedes, veer across the other side of the road and brake along the curb of Snyder Street before the cruiser’s lights flash.
A corporal who stopped Hamilton asked him for his driver’s license, and he provided it, along with a card identifying him as a councilman.
In the moments after, police audio captured Hamilton’s explosive reaction as he insists he did nothing wrong.
Hamilton seethed at the police officers, shouted expletives, accused officers of lying and vowed to complain to Chief Tim Burton about the traffic stop he protested as illegal.
“Call your commander right now,” yelled Hamilton, who refused to comment for this story, at several officers. “Because I am your boss. You understand that? I am a city councilman. You do understand that right? You are going to sit up here and stop me illegally like this?”
Ultimately, the councilman with less than three months on the job would prevail in his protests. A prosecutor in the city attorney’s office would drop the only traffic offense that police cited him for — parking on the wrong side of the street.
It’s unclear why the citation was dismissed from available records as video of the stop clearly shows the violation. The citation was dismissed on Feb. 13.
On Monday, Burton said he did not know the citation had been dismissed and that it was not done by the police department. And Burton said he still believed the traffic stop was legitimate, after reviewing video footage from the cruiser of the officer who stopped Hamilton, as the chief awaited a more detailed report.
“The preliminary indication by the video is that the stop was legitimate, and the officer did not do anything that would constitute a violation of policy,” Burton said.
More than three weeks after the traffic stop, an “inquiry” by the department’s internal affairs unit continues. The department launches inquiries when a citizen makes a complaint that doesn’t involve specific allegations of wrongdoing by an officer — like a complaint about an arrest they feel was wrong. Then the chief can decide if the complaint merits a formal internal affairs investigation.
The officers involved in the traffic stop belong to the department’s Community Response Unit, a specialized unit that often handles targeted drug investigations. The unit’s Sgt. Caleb Lacey would write in his report that the area, on Snyder Street, is a “known location for drug sales, namely crack cocaine.”
Hamilton lives on Snyder Street but Burton said the drug investigation had nothing to do with Hamilton or his home.
Still, the narcotics investigation could have influenced the officer’s decision to pull Hamilton over for the traffic offense, Burton said. The chief said officers on such assignments sometimes take “a zero tolerance approach” to help them “maximize the number of contacts you have in a neighborhood.”
Police officers do not always stop a car or write tickets for such traffic offenses, but often they will in response to complaints about traffic, improper parking or as probable cause to stop someone in an area where a spate of other crimes are reported, spokesman Cpl. Steve LeSueur said.
“It’s just officer discretion,” LeSueur said. “It just depends. But they can.”
‘I COULD CARE LESS’
At one point during the stop, Hamilton started walking away. Cpl. Matt Marshall ordered him to stay by his car.
“Don’t sit up here and play these fucking games with me,” Hamilton shouts at one point, adding later, “I could care less.”
Police reported other residents starting to walk outside as the councilman shouted obscenities.
It is unclear why the citation was dismissed and whether the dismissal had anything to do with Hamilton’s position or his aggressive response to being ticketed.
The policeman who pulled Hamilton over at 9:18 p.m. on Feb. 1 in the 700 block of Snyder Street was Cpl. Lyle Hahn. Four additional police officers responded: Cpl. Zak Kraft, Cpl. Taylor Miley, Cpl. Matt Marshall and Sgt. Caleb Lacey.
Hahn, named Officer of the Year and popular in the department, is also under internal investigation on accusations that he falsified a search warrant to cover up an illegal search of a hotel room in January by police including other members of his unit. A municipal judge said afterwards he believed Hahn lied to get the bogus document. Other officers are being investigated too in that internal affairs investigation.
“There is no relationship between that incident and any other incident that officer Hahn may have engaged in,” Burton said.
And the day after the stop, Burton reported to the city manager that “I am told the officers behaved appropriately.”
Burton also instructed a police captain to deliver Morton video of the stop, so that his boss, who answers directly to the council, would be aware of the stop.
Burton said he launched the inquiry after Hamilton called him the night of the traffic stop.
Burton will review that finished report, expected to be finished Tuesday to decide whether to open a formal investigation.
The chief also met with Hamilton and said the councilman was “perfectly cordial” as Burton explained police procedure and the scope of the inquiry. Hamilton, Burton said, made the some complaint that the stop was illegal but no specific allegations against any of the officers.
An assistant city attorney was also present, Burton said, but the chief said he does not know who asked her to attend.
Burton did not criticize the councilman’s treatment of his officers and said he had not talked to them about the traffic stop since it happened.
“The councilman, like all citizens, is a citizen and therefore has the right to express themselves however they choose to,” Burton said. “And the police department is not in the business of choosing how citizens express themselves as long as it’s lawful.”
Officers, he said, are trained to understand that police encounters “can sometimes be very emotional for the citizens involved.”
Hamilton was cited for parking facing the opposite direction. Police also said he committed another offense by driving on the wrong side of the road.
But Hahn, in his report of the incident, wrote that he did not fill out a separate citation “due to Malcolm’s aggressive demeanor and being uncooperative from the beginning of the traffic stop.” Hamilton refused to sign the citation Hahn gave him.
Hamilton, on video, insisted he had done nothing wrong.
“I am not parked illegally,” Hamilton said. “I stopped to comply.”
Soon after being pulled over, Hamilton also insisted he was about to back into his driveway, an assertion he repeats in a profanity laced tirade to Lacey.
“Bullshit dude,” Hamilton says. “I pulled over. I’m about to back into the goddam driveway. Man. You know that. C’mon dude. Don’t sit there and do these illegal ass stops, because that makes ya’ll look bad.”
But video showed Hamilton driving on the wrong side of the road and pulling up to the curb facing the wrong way before Hahn activated his lights. And, as Lacey tells Hamilton, it does not make sense that Hamilton would be preparing to back into the driveway based on the position of his Mercedes.
Hamilton’s attempt to tell officers they can leave oversteps his powers as a councilman under city law.
Council members are not allowed to give orders to rank-and-file city employees like police officers, just as a school board member cannot make commands of a teacher.
City Council oversees top city administrators including the city manager, and the council’s duties include setting city policy, passing local laws and spending oversight. Per city charter, it’s the city manager and other administrators beneath him who are responsible for staff. And with the police department, that command generally falls to Burton and his deputies.
The Feb. 1 traffic stop was not the 44-year-old former professional football player’s first fraught run-in with policy.
At 19, Hamilton was arrested on charge of aggravated assault of a police officer in July of 1992 in Odessa. The charge was downgraded to a misdemeanor charge, records show, and Hamilton was given deferred adjudication.
On a July 19 summit on race and policing at Blackshear Elementary, Hamilton decried racial prejudice and recounted a previous traffic stop he believed was illegal, while saying he understood and respected the work of law enforcement and has a brother who is a police officer.
But the stop also represented another instance in which Hamilton may have used his position in an attempt to benefit himself. Just a day before the stop, Hamilton returned to Odessa from a 12-day trip to his hometown of Minneapolis.
City records only have one record showing city business on the trip — an hour and 15 minute meeting with a downtown Minneapolis official on one day of the trip — raising questions that Hamilton refuses to answer of whether he billed taxpayers for a vacation.